Committee punts on bill that would have allowed women in Utah’s county jails to stay on their prescribed birth control

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City.

A measure that would have required Utah’s county jails to provide incarcerated women with continued access to birth control won’t move forward this year.

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored HB275, which would have guaranteed that women behind bars receive their prescribed contraceptives.

She said during a Tuesday committee hearing that while she believed the issue was important, it’s gotten some pushback from sheriffs who are concerned about cost and want more time to study it.

Dailey-Provost said she wasn’t opposed to that — if the sheriffs commit to being more transparent about their current policies and where there may be shortcomings.

“There is no state mandate that says it has to be done this way,” she said. “The state code just says that care has to be delivered to make sure people stay alive.”

The House Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday declined to vote the bill up or down, but instead referred it for future study.

A legislative fiscal analyst had estimated that it could cost the counties more than $320,000 yearly to pay for these contraceptives. It was a cost Dailey-Provost said was likely too high, and estimated that probably only about 25 percent of women in the jails would want access to birth control.

She said if women don’t have access to their birth control pills, it affects their hormones and puts them at a greater risk of getting pregnant when they are released. There’s also a risk of a woman becoming pregnant if she had sex before her arrest and then is not able to continue her hormonal birth control once in the jail.

And though it’s not legal, Dailey-Provost added that there are times when male staffers and female inmates have sex in jails.

Reed Richards, the public affairs director for the Utah Sheriffs’ Association, said that since the state beefed up its law punishing guards who have consensual sex with inmates, there has not been an instance of a woman becoming pregnant while behind bars here.

“That may happen some places in the country,” he said. “I’m not aware of any of that taking place in Utah jails.”

There have been at least two jailers, however, who have faced felony charges in Utah for having sex with inmates in recent years.